*Uvites You Can Dig, Power's Farm, Pierrepont, New York
by Michael Walter
Tourmalines in Goethite Tourmaline in Calcite The "Puppy Dog" Tourmaline Tabular Tourmaline
*(2017 Update These tourmalines have been found to be zone combinations of dravite and fluor-uvite)
Both May and June were so nice anyone living in the far reaches of northern New York would consider it to be summer. The problem was that I was still in the stuffy classroom day dreaming about July and the time I would have to mineral collect here in the northeast and in southern Canada. The students were in the process of finishing their course in earth science which made
the desire to be out of doors even greater. Talking about mineral identification, faults, igneous rocks and the like made me think of camping, boulder hopping and my true desire in the summer, mineral collecting.
Finals capped a wonderful year by seeing all my students pass and by having them wish me a good summer of collecting. Our final day of school was a half day in the morning, and "yes", I was collecting at a local site no more than an hour later. The specimens from that local site are famous the world over. They can be found in most of the major museums of the world and are
unique when compared to like minerals from other locations.
The specimens being referred to are the jet black uvite crystals found on the Powerıs Farm in St. Lawrence County, New York. The location is a classic Dana site know historically for at least one hundred and forty years. Native Americans were also believed to have worked the site prior to historical record keeping. These black tourmalines differ from other tourmalines in their unique crystallography. Unlike most tourmalines which are long and slender, triangular in cross section, and striated on their vertical faces these crystals are short with little or no c axis elongation and do not exhibit the striations so typical of other tourmalines.
My personal association with the location began when I was just a rock pup back around 1970. I can remember finding dime sized crystals in the soil while my Father was hard at work with a hammer and chisel. When we stopped by the Powers farm house a wonderland of crystals of all sizes were piled on the front porch. The hundreds of pounds of clusters contained these
stubby black crystals that looked like black garnets. This hooked me on mineral collecting for life.
Since that first visit I have learned a great deal about this collecting location. The first and most important is about gaining access. The owner of this property is quick to close the site if all the rules are not followed. As simple as this sounds the site still gets closed when all does not go well. First everyone must check in and pay their current fee at the farm. At the time of this writing the fee is five dollars per day. Dig at the site and not all over in the surrounding woods and certainly dont liter the site. How would you feel as a land owner if someone asked to collect minerals off your property, had no success at it that day and came back to you demanding their two dollars back? Well, it has happened here.
After properly gaining access comes the decision on exactly where to dig. The main site (# 1 on the map) has been dug extensively over the past 45 to 50 years. As a result most collectors tend to find themselves exploring the tailings of previous collectors. This becomes especially clear when you have dug all day and and find a vintage soda can half rusted in the bottom
of the hole you believed to be virgin. Because much of the site has been explored to a depth of 5 feet or more one has to take some chances. One such chance is not to simply follow the easy digging in the dirt channels between the rock ledges, but to dig directly into these ledges. If you are able to follow any evident seams you may find yourself in unexplored territory. Especially productive are seams filled by secondary, massive calcite deposits. Mineralization occurs extensively on the walls of any fractures or crevasses within the country rock at the site. Further, some of the calcite veins themselves contain well developed crystals as single "floaters" or small clusters of crystals. Any material found in the calcite should be properly etched in acid at home.
Down is the direction to go. As difficult as the digging becomes the route to take is straight down. Any work you do horizontally will be short lived and lead to the extensive excavations done by others. My best discoveries have be when I was removing rock directly below my feet.
In the summer of 1994 this approach proved successful. I had been having very good success working a wide calcite vein that ran in a north south direction. It dipped almost vertically so I knew any material I encountered while digging downward was unexplored. The calcite itself was decayed to a brownish color and quite crumbly. Within this "rotted" material I was finding crystals and clusters of crystals that were larger than usual for this location. While crystals seldom grow over an inch at this location, these uvites sometimes were reaching diameters close to three. This was encouraging even though many of the crystals appeared to be, like the calcite, quite discolored and fragile. Because the material was so crumbly it was easy to dig downward without a great deal of effort. As I retrieved crystals and clusters from this zone I would lay them out on the ledge to my side. Looking at them as I progressed I had to think that if anyone had stumbled onto these specimens lying on the surface, they would have simply ignored them. They certainly looked like "leaverites". After hauling them home and laying them out in the yard I had little hope of removing the tough, crusty limonite coating that encrusted almost all these pieces. It seemed that if the crystals were not fragile they were badly stained. This was a shame because it was obvious that many of these crystals were once quality specimens.
My Father was digging about ten feet away also following a calcite seam. The seam he was in, however, was entirely different. His vein followed the edge of an outcrop of mica rich gneiss. The calcite was fresh and also contained an abundance of crystals. Like my location his had problems, as well. The crystals he would find in the calcite were filled with micro-fractures which made them very fragile once removed from matrix. He tried leaving them in the calcite when possible. These specimens were also poorly preserved. Even when etched from the calcite with acid the uvites failed to hold together. All this was discouraging considering we were able to dig down rapidly through these areas and find so many large crystals.
After many days of working this calcite seam I had reached a depth of about 10 to 12 feet below the surrounding land surface. It appeared that the calcite had ran out but I thought I would dig a bit further into the rock below and see what would develop. My Father was watching me struggle to remove a chunk of rock directly below my own feet with a 3 foot long pry bar. I tried to jam the the point of the bar below the chunk when the floor
of the hole broke and the bar sunk in its full length! I was shocked. This turned out to be a three foot deep, three foot long, and one foot wide pocket fully lined with well formed and very large crystals. The largest crystal was a whopper. It was the size of a large grapefruit and stuck out of the pocket wall like a goiter.
Tourmaline The "Four Bridges" Tourmaline Tourmaline and Calcite
Excavating this pocket was a rare pleasure. First I removed enough of the cap into the pocket so as to see what was there. The material in the pocket was partially coated with a mix of dirt, clay and limonite. Even so it was clear that the majority of the pockets walls were mineralized. The sides of the pocket were lined with the best crystals. The north side was especially well mineralized with the previously mentioned large crystal in its center. It was at least five inches across and perched in the middle of a fine cluster of one to two inch crystal totaling one and a half feet across. The real problem lie in the fact that the walls of the pocket were highly fractured. This made it easy to remove specimens but they tended to separate between crystals instead of coming out in larger clusters or plates of crystals. As the specimens were removed they were wrapped in news paper, gently sat in cardboard flats and stacked on the edge of the massive crater we had created over the past days. To look at the site one would think the method of excavation was the use of a large car bomb.
The arrival of darkness found us loading tools and specimens into the wheelbarrow for the short walk out to the vehicles. Living only a few miles from this site allows us the flexibility of digging quite late into the afternoon without having to face a long drive after collecting. A nice hot shower after spending a day in a muddy hole can also be quite nice.
Specimens from this deep pocket and the calcite seam that lead to it required some special care once home. As mentioned earlier I thought much of this material would never see a shelf in any ones collection cabinet. Most of the specimens looked like large globs of rust with the occasional black crystal face peeking out form below the dark brown crust. The first thing I did with most of the material was to allow it to desiccate thoroughly. This was done by spreading the specimens out in flats and storing them in a shed loft that is both warm during the summer months and always dry during the winter. After almost a year of drying they were inspected. The drying process allowed for fewer crystals to be damaged when mechanically cleaned later. Many of these specimens came out of the ground saturated by water and somewhat crumbly in places. Some specimens were allowed up to three years to dry. Once the surface crust of limonite was scraped away I found the areas between crystals were filled by a dark brown, dense, limonite filling. At times the surface coating was as thick as two or more inches and the filling between the crystals as hard as concrete.
Next came the final preparation of these tourmalines. Every specimen had to be scrapped using dental tools. All of the of limonite had to be removed bit by bit from every small crevice. A single specimen could take as much as several hours to completely clean. Crystal faces were glass smooth and hard. Though I do not recommend this method for most situations the cleaning of these crystal faces was best accomplished with 000 steel wool. The last stage was to soak the pieces in Iron-out to remove remaining stains. This was a tiresome process but well worth the effort.
Once all this crud was removed the pieces were quite remarkable. Most of the uvite specimens recovered that summer were lustrous and well formed. The sizes ranged from one quarter inch to five inches across with the average being three quarters of an inch to an inch and a half. Occasionally, the uvites would be formed in combination with clear to milky colored quartz. Though the quartz from this location is normally poorly formed or massive, when found in combination with the black tourmaline it makes for great contrast in the specimens. Usually the uvites will set in or on the quartz and stand out dramatically.
This amazingly successful trip in the summer of 1994 is an example of an unusual collecting experience for this area, but, not an unheard of occurrence. Other large pockets and seams have been found on the Powers Farm site. Some of these discoveries have yielded literally thousands of specimens from one days digging. The norm, however, is an investment of several days of work. Most of the work is to reach a level deep enough to pass the diggings of other before you.
Good finds are to be had at this site which do not come in the form of the discovery of large pockets. When working the host rock at this location it is common to encounter small pockets and seams which are often well mineralized. During the 1998 collecting season I was working a section of wall rock when I came upon a small 1/2 inch opening. As the opening expanded back into the rock it took on the shape of a small football. Inside this remarkable pocket were a number of small, tabular crystals. Most of the crystals were floaters while 3 or 4 were attached to matrix. These crystals were 1/2 to 1 and 1/2 inches wide and looked like buttons. Everyone of the crystals was an exceptional find: fabulous luster, quartz crystal associations and perfect form made them highly desirable.
The very next day I returned in hopes of repeating my previous days luck. After working for several hours I broke away several solid chunks of calcite from a small seam. None of these chunks were any larger than the size of a mans fist. They showed some small exposed crystal faces so I knew that there might be specimens within. A few days later I soaked these chunks in
dilute hydrochloric acid to remove the calcite. One of the pieces of calcite, unknown to me, contained one of the best uvite specimens I had ever seen. It was a cluster if approximately a dozed crystal stacked in a two inch, snake like column. It was unbelievable that such a specimen could have been hidden below that calcite.
Although uvite is the mineral specimen that most collector are looking for when they go to Powers Farm, many other minerals can be encountered. Quartz seldom forms quality specimens but on occasion will. Sometimes small pockets of smokies are found that are superb in their crystal form and color. I have personally found quartz points up to six inches, most of which were highly deformed. Biotite books from this site can be as large as ten inches across. Some of the biotite will also form well developed six sided crystal up to four inches across and 2 inches thick.
Uralite is an interesting specimen to find here as well. These crystals are usually found in well formed, medium green clusters. This pseudomorph of actinolite after diopside appears as crystals square in cross section and slender rectangles one quarter to one inch across and as long as three or four inches in length. The uralite from this site often stands up nicely in relief off the matrix material on which it forms. Sometimes it forms clusters in combination with the uvite. Other minerals that may be found in crystal form include diopside, pyrite, calcite, actinolite, scapolite and
blue and green apatite.
Uralite Tourmaline and Fluorapatite in Calcite Tourmaline
Collecting at this site is quite easy if you are looking for smaller specimens. They are commonly encountered in the tailings abandoned by others who have explored before you. Sifting perimeter soils close to the main diggings can also be productive. The serious rockhound looking for cabinet or museum specimens is in for a good deal of hard work.
It is rare to find any virgin rock any shallower than several feet in depth. The better uvite specimens will be found in two very different ways. The first is through the mining out of any calcite seems encountered. Floaters and contact clusters can be removed in the calcite matrix and etched at home using dilute hydrochloric acid. Some of the dark brown staining also found on many specimens can be removed by soaking them in a strong solution of Iron Out or oxalic acid. The second method of finding quality uvites is to dig within the quartz- tourmaline- biotite schist (especially if it borders massive calcite) and look for pockets. Pockets can range in size from several inches to several feet. Most pockets contain uvite crystals that are superior to those found in the calcite and they require far less cleaning than their counterparts.
The best approach at this location is to plan on digging for several days. Usually, one to two days are required to reach the virgin rock. Please note that camping is not allowed at this site. There is a secondary site (# 2 on the map) closer to the parking area. It is less likely to produce large uvite specimens. Most collecting here is done by shifting the sandy glacial till looking for floaters. Limited digging has been done at this site and it is unclear as to whether the origin of the uvites here is in the bedrock or the relocated soil and large boulders.
To reach the Powerıs Farm site in Pierrepont leave Canton New York and travel south on route # 68 toward the town of Colton. Just 1/4 mile before entering the town of Pierrepont you will see Powerıs Road to your left. This is about 10 miles from Canton. Turn left on Powerıs Road and drive to the first farm house on your left. This is where Mr. Bower Powerıs lives. After securing permission to collect at the site you leave the farm and travel the rest of the way into the town of Pierrepont. Turn left at the intersection in town, travel approximately 1/2 mile out of town and take your first left, Post Road, which parallels a small steam. At the end of this dirt road there is a narrower farm trail that is passable with most vehicles. Continue down this trail approximately 300 yards and park. If you have a global positioning system (GPS) your reading here would be N 44 degrees 33.278' by W 75 degrees 01.205'. To reach the main site (# 1 on map) walk the trail that parallels the stream always bearing to your left. This trail is about a one quarter mile in length and goes across some low wet areas along the stream then proceeds into a maple forested hillside and bears left to end at the main diggings at GPS location N 44 degrees 33.500' by W 75 degrees 01.206'.
Once at the site the fun begins. With some luck and persistence you may find the next big uvite pocket. If not you are still sure to find enough quality specimens to make the trip well worth while.
Read our book on this location...
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